People about Cosplay...
Interesting question. If the word “cosplay” is referring to what is usually meant, then no, because the costumes in question are those of fictitious characters. There is no “culture” being appropriated. Not even if you wear a Japanese school uniform – because Ayanami Rei, or whoever, is not a Japanese girl, she’s a fictitious character and you are dressing like her.
There’s some interesting weirdnesses to explore though, even in this space. Some thoughtless racist fans were in the habit of making black cosplayers feel uncomfortable. The absurdity of this is almost galactic in proportion because if a black woman can’t dress like Sailor Moon because she’s not Japanese, then why would a white women be able to? She isn’t Japanese, either. And Sailor Moon is not Japanese, she’s fictitious. Obviously, critical thinking is not high on the list of people who are unpleasant to other people.
But the rising tide right now is that cosplay is for everyone and while I don’t myself cosplay, I support this. Dressing up as your favorite character is not cultural appropriation – it is a culture in and of itself. There are folks who cosplay Jane Austen characters and pirates and princesses. Cosplay has its own subculture aesthetic. Merely dressing up is for anyone, anytime, anywhere.
The world has adopted the word cosplay. It’s Wasei-eigo, which means the word was originally created by the Japanese using English as the roots. “Costume play” becomes “cosplay.” There is a world cosplay summit. So I don’t think you can argue that merely using the word is appropriation. Words for things spread. That’s how language works.
Calling offensive stereotype costumes “cosplay” is stretching the word uncomfortably outside what cosplay means, IMHO. Those costumes are meant to represent offensive stereotypes. It’s outside the culture of cosplay itself and is merely wearing a costume in bad taste.
So, I would say no, cosplay is not cultural appropriation, it is its own culture that is open to anyone, anywhere.
It depends on what you mean by popular. It’s more or less exclusive to conventions, which have the benefit of only happening once each year per con. Attendees like myself have time to craft and sew awesome things. I know why I like it-it pushes my creative boundaries and has become my full time hobby and side-job. It’s very fun to be someone else, but it’s also fun to show off your work. I made my husband a great Groot costume for DragonCon last year and it was one of the best weekends ever. We had a blast as ‘Rockette’ and Groot. There’s something about participating in a huge fandom that is just pure fun.
I don’t think it’s really all that popular with the general public, when people don’t know who you are it can be disappointing. They don’t really know what to make of you when you come into a restaurant painted blue with a handful of storm troopers after an event or convention. Kids seem to go nuts over it though, I’m also a member of Rebel Legion and dress as Princess Leia for events. Adults are amused but kids go crazy for Darth Vader. Popularity really only seems to stretch as far as known characters.
I actually role play as well. Role play and cosplay are almost the same thing. The only really different thing is that we not only act like the characters but we dress like them as well. The definition I give people when they ask what cosplay is, is this; cosplay means costume role play. We find a character that like/love and use cosplay as a way to bring them into the real world as best we can.
The appeal of cosplay for me is being able to create these amazing things using my skills that I have cultivated over the years. I guess it’s the same for people that like to cook. Cooking is fun and fine but I don’t think I’d really want to try my hand at making something worthy of a 5 star restaurant. That would just be way out of my skill level and I wouldn’t enjoy myself at all.
So yes, cosplay is kind of almost like that 5 star thing that people put a lot of time and effort into because they are passionate about it. Cosplay has also made it so that I have something to connect to people with. A lot of my family viewed it the same way as you do. Just adults and older teens that are dressing up on days other than Halloween. But after they saw just how much time and effort I put into these cosplays that I make they have gained a bit of a more ‘healthy’ respect for it.
If you get to know a cosplayer you will probably find that they are pretty passionate about their so called ‘hobby’. You could meet a cosplayer that may not have all of the resources that more ‘experienced’ cosplayers have. They may just sew everything by hand because they don’t have a sewing machine and work on cosplays in the corner of their shared bedroom because there’s just not enough space. Or you could meet a cosplayer that has years of experience and has won awards for their cosplays. They know exactly what kind of fabric to use for which kind of cosplay pieces. They have an entire workshop just for cosplay crafting.
But in the end we are all just a bunch of passionate nerds trying to bring our waifus and bishi boys into the real world. You don’t have to get the appeal of cosplay, just maybe respect those that do. I hope that helped you. :)